Project Croissant: la farine graham et noix de coco

We leave for Paris tomorrow and we have croissants on the brain! Paris is so many things, but anticipation of the city’s beautiful boulangeries, coupled with our love of Viennoiserie, has our tummies growling. Friends are hosting us in Paris and plan to introduce us to new and wonderful things. We hope to introduce them to some of our Paris favorites as well.

This will be our second visit to both Paris and the Champagne region. On our first visit, we rented an apartment in Paris for ten days, using it as a jumping off point for visits to Versaille and Reims. We discovered, usually by accident, some fantastic little spots including one of our favorites, the cheeky Legay Choc. Thanks to a crazy Icelandic volcano, our April visit to Paris was unusually quiet with near-empty museums and barely crowded churches.

This trip comes courtesy of a gala auction indulgence, entitling us to a week in a country home in Orbais L’Abbaye, a short drive from Chateau-Thierry. We’ve decided to visit in the fall so that we can take part in the local grape harvest or vendange. Champagne’s wine growers are in the midst of picking which should mean that the area will be bustling when we arrive. Here’s hoping our effort to learn a little French with Duolingo will be enough to get by with the people we meet!

Our plan is to take a photographic journey through the countryside trying our darnedest to document the specifics of our experiences so that we can share them with you. And as if Paris and Champagne weren’t enough, we’re heading to Belgium afterward for a few days of tasting and touring.  We thought that since Belgium is a short train ride away, we should  visit the country famous for its excellence in all four of the major food groups – beer, chocolate, fries and mayo. We expect we’ll witness things like sunrises and sunsets that are so spectacular that a photograph will never be able to capture the magic of the moment. Food and drink will be the focus. Still, we’re going to give it our best shot.

Instead of simply teasing you with thoughts of late mornings in lovely little Parisian cafes, noshing on buttery, flaky pain au chocolat and sipping cafe au lait, we’re sharing this David Leibowitz-inspired croissant, made from graham flour and a mix of butter and coconut oil. Hardly traditional, their rich, satisfyingly crunchy exterior and soft, yeasty center makes them irresistible nonetheless.

Using coconut oil is a challenge. This recipe only works in cool weathered areas or in a well air-conditioned kitchen. If your kitchen is more than 75 degrees and you’re refrigerator is space-challenged, this could be an issue. Aside from that, working with laminated doughs is relatively easy if you follow a few basic rules.

Graham flour is a somewhat unusual substitute for the flour typically  used to create croissants. It has a rich, nutty taste. Think graham crackers. The flour is also extremely nutritious; high in both fiber and protein, magnesium and B6. The challenge in using graham flour in a croissant application is the large pieces of wheat germ it contains. Graham flour is a course flour which is generally not used when making laminated doughs because the germ’s sharp edges may cause little tears in the layers. But it is a healthy four and if you can live with smaller flakes and crunchy shards, you’ll love the flavors of the nutty flour and butter. While you’re at it, use some of the dough to make your own pain au chocolat or almond croissant. Your options for gilding the lilly are endless.

There will be future croissant installments as we share what we learn from our experimenting. In the meantime, don’t be shy and give these a try. If you can mix a yeasted bread dough, you can make a laminated dough.

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Graham and Coconut Croissants
Makes 6 pastries

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup graham flour
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
3/4 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup cold coconut milk
1 tablespoon coconut oil

Butter Square
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (highest European Quality) room temperature
4 tablespoons coconut oil (softened solid form around 75 degrees)

Optional Chocolate and/or Chocolate coconut
a few small squares of favorite dark chocolate
1-2 tablespoons small crumbles or chips of chocolate
1-2 tablespoons coconut butter (not oil)

Mixing the dough/Day 1
In a small bowl, mix the all-purpose and graham flours together. Mix the yeast with the milk and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or stir it together in a large bowl. Stir in about one-third of the flour mixture and let the mixture stand until it starts to bubble, 10 to 15 minutes.

Mix in the rest of the flour and the salt, and stir until all the ingredients are combined. Knead the dough on a lightly floured countertop a few times, just enough to bring it together into a cohesive ball. There’s no need to overknead.

Put the dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 6 hours.

Making laminated dough/Day 2
Put the cold butter and coconut oil in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until there are no lumps in the oil. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, mix the two together with a wooden spoon.) If the coconut oil is too soft put the mixture in the fridge. If too cold, zap for a few seconds in the microwave. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on the counter or in a square bowl and place the butter mixture in the middle. Enclose it and shape into a 4- by 4-inch square. Chill the butter for 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Roll the dough on a lightly floured countertop, so it forms a diamond shape with four flaps – two on top, two on the bottom, leaving the dough raised a bit in the center. (See the photo in the post.)

Unwrap the chilled square of butter and place it in the center. Fold the flaps over the butter, sealing the dough around the butter completely, and whack the dough with a rolling pin to flatten it out. Roll the dough into a 12- by 9-inch (30 by 22cm) rectangle.

Lift up one-third of the left side of the dough and fold it over the center. Then lift the right side of the dough over the center, to create a rectangle. Take the rolling pin and press down on the dough two times, making an X across it. Mark the dough with one dimple with your finger to remind you that you’ve made one “turn”, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for 45 to 60 minutes.

Do the next turn of the dough the same way, rolling and folding the dough again, making 2 dimples with your finger in the dough, then chill it for another 45 to 60 minutes.

Do the last turn and folding of the dough and let it chill for an hour.

If there are any large pieces of butter or coconut oil, remove from the dough.

Shaping croissants
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Unwrap the dough and roll it out on a lightly floured countertop until it’s a 15 x 9-inch rectangle. Trim the edges with a sharp chef’s knife and cut the dough into 4 rectangles, then cut each into 3 rectangles diagonally, making 6 triangles, or to make chocolate croissants, cut in half (see photo for process).

For plain croissants
Take one triangle and roll to lengthen it to 11 inches (28cm) long. Starting at the wide end, roll the croissant up toward the point, not too-tightly. Set it point-side-up on the baking sheet and roll the rest of the croissants the same way.

For chocolate and chocolate/coconut
There are two methods you can use. For chocolate croissants, cut rectangles in half and place a square of chocolate in the center. Fold over the sides and place the seam on the bottom of the croissants.

Small chocolate chips or crumbles and/or coconut butter (or really, a lot of things) can be added to the triangles and then rolled as described above. (See pictures for better description.)

Proof or Freeze
To proof the croissants, cover the baking sheet with a large plastic bag (such as a clean trash bag), close it, and let the croissants proof in a warm place until the croissants are nearly doubled and puffed up, which will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

To freeze the croissants before baking. Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap before proofing and place the sheet pan in the freezer. Once the croissants are frozen, you can take them off the sheet pan and store in a large freezer bag.

To bake the frozen croissants. Take them out of the freezer the night before and place on a baking sheet, cover the croissants with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge. The next morning if the croissants have not yet doubled in volume, keep covered with plastic and place the croissants in a warm place until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC.) Mix the egg with a pinch of salt and brush each croissant with the glaze. Bake the croissants for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat of the oven to 350ºF, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until browned. Some butter may seep out during baking, which is normal.

Bread 2.0

We are big proponents of no-knead bread recipes. Home cooks can easily and quickly bake fresh breads in their ovens and call it artisanal. Our first adventure in no-knead bread baking was inspired by America’s Test Kitchen and Mark Bitman. This time around, we’re experimenting with the Artisan Bread in Five technique along with a new, easier way to bake the bread, thanks to a little blurb we found in the back of a recent edition of Cook’s Illustrated. We’ve also used our new sourdough starter, which we’ve named Madonna, though we have no idea why we named it after her. We like her music and everything, but, well… it was the first name we thought of and well, when you think about, it sort of works.

The bread bakes in a Dutch oven placed in a cold oven for almost 90 minutes. One unfortunate side effect comes as the oven gets hotter and the aroma of freshly baked bread fills the kitchen. Then when the lid is removed for the final 30 minutes of baking, the whole house literally smells like a french bakery. Quelle horreur!

A traditional round, or French boule, is a loaf made of nothing but all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, and water. This technique requires no kneading, so prep time is the time it takes to measure and mix with a spoon or a fancy, but cool, bread whisk. And then you wait. The wet dough proofs in a large container in the refrigerator 24-48 hours. It will age well and can proof for as long as two weeks. The perfect type of bread for the procrastinator in all of us.

The idea here is to prepare enough dough that you’re able to pull it out as needed, which then is shaped and baked while the rest of the dough waits patiently in the fridge until you’re ready for your next loaf. This recipe gives you enough dough for about 4 small loaves, or two large loaves with enough to start another batch. Instead of cleaning out the container, add more homemade starter with water and whip it together with an emersion blender.

It’s a great idea for those of us who believe crusty bread is a daily requirement. Even better if you care about your food budget. And for the busy home cook, you get a huge reward for not a lot of effort.

Once the loaves are cooled, they can be sliced and stored in the freezer until you’re ready to toast them, which is the superior method to making toast, according to the New York Times (and we agree).

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Adapted from: The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Makes two loaves, approximately 2 pounds each.

Recipe can be halved or doubled.
1 lb. 8 ounces water, room temperature
8 ounces homemade starter
1 lb. all-purpose flour
1 lb. whole wheat flour (or a combination of flours rye, barley, etc.)
1 tablespoon granulated yeast
1 tablespoon sea salt
Cornmeal and additional flour for the baking pan

In a large 6 quart mixing container add the water and homemade starter. Mix together until blended.

In a large bowl, weigh out the flour(s) then add the yeast and salt. Whisk together. Add the flour to the water and mix with a wooden spoon or baker’s whisk until everything is mixed together. No need to knead the dough.

Place the lid on the container and leave at room temperature for up to 2 hours or straight into the fridge for a slower proofing and more sour flavor when baked.

It will rise and then sink in on itself as it sits in the refrigerator. That’s normal. Just be sure to never punch the dough down as you work with it. It will deflate, resulting in a flatter, denser loaf.

When you’re ready to bake a loaf, uncover the dough, sprinkle top with flour, grab or scoop about a pound, or two of dough (described as about a grapefruit sized piece) out of the container using your hand or a pastry scraper. Be sure to dust your hands with flour to help prevent sticking. Gently pull the edges of the dough into a ball, pinching it closed. Set the dough ball smooth side down into a bread proofing basket lined with a clean muslin cloth and dusted with flour.* Liberally dust the bottom of the bread with cornmeal. Cover with the edges of the cloth and allow to sit at room temperature for 90 minutes.

When ready to bake, uncover the bread and invert a Dutch oven pan over the top of the basket, so that the basket now fits inside of the pan. Quickly and gently flip the basket and pan over. Remove the basket and the cloth. If the cloth sticks to the dough, use a little more flour with the next loaf.** Using a serrated knife, slice three slits across or one long slice down the center. Place the lid on the Dutch oven and place it into a cold oven, then crank up the heat to 425F. It will take 20 to 25 minutes for the oven to come up to temperature, and then once to temperature it needs to bake for 30 minutes. About 50 minutes total. After that time, remove the pot’s lid and continue baking until the bread is a dark golden brown and hollow sounding when thumped, approximately 20 to 30 more minutes.

Turn loaf out onto a wire rack with a kitchen towel under it to catch all the toasted flour and cornmeal. Let it cool completely before cutting, at least 2 hours. The loaf should make a nice crackling sound while it cools and rests.

*this is giving us problems and we haven’t figured out the best method, but we’re hopeful!

**Alternately, as you’ll see in our photos, a piece of parchment paper can be used as a sling.

***we’re currently experimenting with eliminating the parchment all together and instead using just a dusting of cornmeal. The results have been very positive, but we’re lazy fucks and still need to photograph the results.

****if you pull the loaf out of the oven too soon, like we did on our first attempt (as one can see from some of the pictures) and it’s under baked, crank up the heat to 425F and place the loaf in the center of the oven on a rack for 20-30 more minutes, or until nice and toasty (better picture, too).